Price: £10.20 (1200 MS Points)
Format: Xbox 360 via XBLA
Publisher: Ubisoft

The Xbox Live Summer of Arcade has become an important date in the diary of any sensible, internet enabled gamer. It’s given us classics like Braid, Geometry Wars 2, Castle Crashers and Shadow Complex. Not to mention a raft of other spectacular download only games. Will this year’s schedule be sharp as the ones that have come before it?

Following hot on the heels of fellow SoA title, Bastion, comes From Dust, a new god sim from Ubisoft. It’s a gorgeous looking title that draws heavily on a variety of primitive mythologies from around the world. You play a swirl of golden light — the ‘breath’ — that can deform terrain and guide the game’s tribesmen as they do its bidding, capturing territory, artefacts and so on.

Anyone old enough to remember Populous will be instantly familiar with the aim and themes of the game — fly around, fix broken things and try and stop all of your minions and followers from drowning or burning to death in lava.

To do this, you grab chunks out of the landscape and use them to guide and protect your little men. Obviously, you can’t just pick up lumps of the island maps wholesale, instead you can only grab sand, water and lava. The more land you create, the quicker vegetation can spread across the island. The quicker the vegetation spreads, the quicker you can move your tribe to the next place you think they should live.

If you wanted to be cruel, you might describe From Dust as a cross between Lemmings and the Mel Gibson film Apocalypto. Quite often, you feel like little more than a shepherd though, nudging things in the right direction rather than having any actual control over them. It’s almost like your tribe could wander around quite happily without you, getting on with their businesses and watching palm trees grow around their island paradise. Which does beg the question, why are you bothering to protect them?

Then the game starts to throw natural disasters at you. Floods and volcanoes threaten to ravage your lands, destroy your people and upset the balance of your ecosystem. What was once sedate to the point of narcolepsy becomes a frustrating, timed battle against the everlasting, ageless power of nature. The first few times you have that fight, you’re going to lose. Miserably. For those who were enjoying the sedate pace of the game, it’s a pretty unsettling change of tack. For those who thought the game was dull, it’s now dull and frustrating.

From Dust is a game with some grand ideas. The problem seems to be that those grand ideas overtook the actual gameplay, changing what could have been a great reinvention of the god game genre into a muddled and muddied mess. It never quite finds a strong enough footing from which to launch forwards. Rather, it’s a title that gets crushed under the weight of the great expectation it had already gathered for itself. It’s not technically bad, it’s not without its merits, but it just doesn’t have a solid enough gameplay core around which to build the rest of its large and unfulfilled promise.